Remembering blessed Oscar Romero’s 100 years

POST BY JFilochowski

Oscar Romero street art













Julian Filochowski, Chair of The Romero Trust, reminds us why there will be so many celebrations this year to mark the centenary of the birth of a modern martyr on 15 August.  This article first appered in Jesuits and Friends magazine issue 97.

This Romero Centenary Year is a time to remember and to cherish the life, ministry and martyrdom of a valiant and prophetic contemporary pastor. As we wait confidently for the announcement of his canonisation, Archbishop Romero remains a riveting inspiration for 21st century Christians, especially for the Ignatian family, as we strive to live ever more authentically our commitment to, ‘the service of faith, of which the promotion of justice is an absolute requirement. For reconciliation with God demands the reconciliation of people with one another’ (General Congregation 32). Oscar Romero gave his life in unequivocal obedience to that mandate.

Romero’s ministry as archbishop was a paradigm example of a faith that does justice. He remained close to the poor and became their fearless advocate. He opened up the scriptures and presented them as truly Good News to the Christian communities, in the midst of poverty and oppression. With every fibre of his being, Romero sought to prevent the looming civil war. He denounced both the repressive violence of the security forces and the assassinations carried out by leftist guerrillas. He demanded economic and social justice as the indispensable basis for a durable peace in El Salvador.

Sculpture of Romero

Preaching on 23 March 1980, he tackled the question of what ordinary soldiers should do when ordered to kill and massacre:

‘Before an order to kill that a man may give, God’s law must prevail: Thou shalt not kill! No soldier is obliged to obey an order against the law of God… in the name of this suffering people, I beg you, I beseech you, I order you in the name of God: Stop the repression.’ 

He had pronounced his own death sentence. The next day, with a single marksman’s bullet, Archbishop Romero was taken from us.

The closing line of a poem by Bishop Pedro Casaldaliga – ‘San Romero of America, our shepherd and martyr: nobody will silence your last homily!’ – will be underlined on 23 September at a Special Evensong to celebrate Romero’s Centenary. The service at Westminster Abbey, over whose West Door stands a statue of Romero, will include an anthem, commissioned from composer James MacMillan, which draws on those words from that last homily and verses from Psalm 31.

The Liverpool archdiocese has marked the Centenary by placing in the Metropolitan Cathedral a bust of Romero (pic 1) by the sculptor, Rory Young. He crafted the seven coloured stone statues of modern martyrs, including Romero, that stand in the nave screen of St Alban’s Anglican Cathedral (pic 2). A second casting of the Liverpool bust will be placed in the chapel of the cancer hospital in San Salvador, the site of Romero’s martyrdom.

Close to that chapel, opposite the bungalow where Romero lived, is a new mosaic mural, ‘Romero goes out to his people’, partly funded by Jesuit Missions UK (main pic). Based on Luke 4:18, this was commissioned from the renowned Salvadoran artist, Fernando Llort, who describes the mural:

‘Monseñor Romero is calling out with his open arms to all those who suffer - the forgotten. And his saintly halo is the sun with its twelve rays – the twelve apostles united with Jesus…. The white dove at his right side represents the Holy Spirit, the Creator Spirit. Above his left arm is the symbol of the Father, of God with twelve small dwellings that represent the People of God, and the Community. Below Monseñor Romero´s right hand is a small girl who has lost her feet through amputation and there also is a sick woman lying down.  Below his left hand is a man, a campesino, also in poor health and also lying down. The Bible is there, the Word of God, which Archbishop Romero both preached and lived out in his life. Above the campesino peasant there is a maize plant…. It is the most important food of our staple daily diet. There is also a pitcher, a symbol of the water of eternal life, and a coffee branch, which is a symbol of our culture.  We see too volcanoes and mountains from our land of El Salvador. Beneath the mountains, we find a village with its church. On the church door, we see the initials: O.R. ... Oscar Romero.’

Oscar Romero statue

On 12 August, there was a Centenary Mass in St George’s Cathedral, Southwark, during which a new hymn commissioned from composer Chris Olding, will be sung. The hymn has its own tune but it can also be sung to Ode to Joy or Blaenwern. Here are the first and last verses:

God, you raise up true disciples, teachers, martyrs deep in faith.
Like Romero, holy people, giving witness to your grace.
Let us listen to their voices, speaking of new ways to live.
By their words and by their actions, we may know the love you give.

Brought together by your Spirit, one in you, our risen Lord,
now you send us as your chosen, hearts emboldened, hope restored.
Like Romero, we will serve you and whatever may befall,
we'll devote ourselves to justice and the common good of all.

Blessed Oscar Romero, defender of the poor, Pray for Us.